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Why The Liberal Justices Voted To Not Hear Montana’s Challenge To Citizens United

Earlier this week, a divided U.S. Supreme Court reversed a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court that would have weakened the Citizens United by justifying regulation in an environment of corruption. SCOTUS reversed the Montana ruling by deciding to not hear an appeal of a lower federal court ruling. In doing so, the Court affirmed its committment to Citizens United.

Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan voted with the majority to not to hear the case, and they have received some criticism for that vote.

The argument being made by some opponents of Citizens United is that the Court should, at least, have heard the arguments justifying Montana’s ruling. They believe that the corruption of our government is such a compelling reason to limit the Court’s ruling in Citizens United that they could have been successful if only the Court had listened to arguments.

But the four “liberal” Justices did not vote to give certiorari even though they wanted to reconsider Citizens United. Justice Breyer wrote, “Were the matter up to me, I would vote to grant the petition for certiorari in order to reconsider Citizens United or, at least, its application in this case.” But he did not want to do so now, saying, “given the Court’s per curiam disposition, I do not see a significant possibility of reconsideration.  Consequently, I vote instead to deny the petition.”

The five Justices who opposed the Montana ruling intend to allow financial contributions and corporate spending to control the political process even in the face of corruption. The four Justices understood that the majority would not reverse themselves. Furthermore, the “liberals” were afraid that, if the case was heard, a subsequent ruling might serve only to strengthen Citizens United even more, and they did not want to take that risk.

Thinking about that, I’m convinced that we probably dodged a bullet. For those of us who want to quash Citizens United, those four Justices did us a favor in spite of ourselves. If we’d gotten our way, we might have even bigger problems than we have now.

— David Dickinson

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